Sylvan Springs, Nebraska Territory

"You wanna explain why we're here in this cell?"

Lou didn't say a thing.

"The last time this happened at least it was my fault… so I knew why we were there." Jimmy slammed the heels of his boots into the wooden floor. "You forgot how to talk, Lou? Or maybe you're Ike in disguise."

Lou turned his back to Jimmy, sliding his arms through the bars.

"You ain't small enough to slip through them bars, no matter how puny you are."

There was a flash of anger on the boy's face, or rather, it might have just been the lantern light on his glasses, but…

"Look, I don't mind you getting' steamed 'bout somethin' and then gettin' some revenge for it, but gettin' us locked up?" Jimmy huffed. "I had plans for tonight, Lou."

"Well, I'm sorry if I messed up your plans for a woman, Jimmy."

He gave the boy a wolf's grin. "That's one way to put it, Lou."

Jimmy stretched out on the single cot in the cell. "Well, I guess we'd better get comfortable," he bent one leg up and stretched the other one up on the bars.

The light from outside was still coming through the window, so Jimmy pulled his hat over his face to hide it.

Cody wasn't around so there wasn't any snoring… and somehow, it was harder to get to sleep than he thought. Jimmy was ready to turn on his side when a voice stilled his movement.

"I tripped him." Silence. "The Marshal."

Jimmy slid his hat down from his face and set it on his chest. "What?"

Lou turned away from the bars, leaning back against them as he looked over at Jimmy. "I stuck my leg out and tripped him when he went by." A curious look passed over his face. "Hurt my shin somethin' awful, but it was mighty worth it."

Jimmy propped himself up on an elbow and watched the boy carefully.

"You didn't hear what he said 'bout… 'bout…" If it wasn't for the dark shadows of the cell, Jimmy swore he'd have seen the boy flush with anger.

"That saloon girl?"

Lou pushed away from the bars and walked along the wall toward the cot. Swinging his legs over the edge, Jimmy sat up and leaned his head back against the wall. Lou started talking before he got there. "Yeah… he said…" the boy paused, feet catching on the uneven boards beneath their feet, "I ain't gonna repeat it anyway… but it was wrong."

Jimmy let go of a heavy sigh. "She's heard worse, Lou-"

"Well, hell, Jimmy… I ain't no child… I know that she's heard worse," Lou flopped down on the cot, the ropes beneath the thin mattress creaked and groaned at the shift of weight, "problem is, she shouldn't have to, Jimmy. Folks shouldn't have to take that kind of hate… not from no one."

The words were full of strength, Lou's whole body stiff with emotion.

"Fine… yeah, I understand your point, Lou. Problem is most folks out this far from civilization don't have a whole lot of notions past their own feelings. You can't put yourself in trouble everytime some old fool puts his foot up his… you just can't."

"That's how you see things-"

"No," Jimmy corrected, his tone a little less short than he was feelin' and it surprised him, "but that's how it is."

Lou leaned back against the wall, his face only half in the moonlight from the window. "I don't like it. Not one bit."

"Well," Jimmy sighed, his eyes half closed, "ain't nothing we can do 'til morning… and can't expect any help from Teaspoon until the next day at most. So, 'best we get some sleep."


*** ***

Jimmy woke and saw by the shift of light comin' in the high window. Night was mostly half over and there wasn't a peep from the front of the Marshal's office. "Hey Lou-"

He stopped and the words in his head drifted out of his open mouth as he caught sight of Lou. The boy had fallen asleep on his shoulder. His gut reaction was to push the boy back… maybe lean him up against the bars on the other end of the cot… but there was something that stopped him.

With all the arguing earlier… there hadn't been time to do much more than shut the boy up and get some rest, but now… now when everything was dark and there wasn't any more arguin' to be done there was something to be said for the way Lou's face looked all soft and relaxed in the moonlight.

Everyone knew Lou was old enough to be a rider, carried his weight around the station, even took more than his fair share of rides, but the boy knew how to sit a saddle and didn't complain much.

Yet, there was always something that bothered Jimmy about the boy. It wasn't anything he really thought about much… only when things were quiet and he didn't have to push back at the others to keep them at arm's length.

The moonlight was almost silvering the metal of Lou's glasses where it sat on the end of his nose and Jimmy thought he should probably push them back up onto the bridge or maybe even take them off and set them aside. He just didn't want to move Lou… didn't want to touch the boy… things, just weren't right.

Lou turned in his sleep and a breath puffed out against Jimmy's neck. The older rider froze and swallowed his supper back down. He reached over and took Lou's shoulder in his hand and moved him slowly toward the bars. He didn't want to wake the boy, didn't want to have to explain why he was touching them… why he..

A moment later and Lou was leaning against the bars on the other side, bangs falling to cover over the pale expanse of his forehead.

Jimmy tried to lean back and fall asleep himself, but there were troubling thoughts running around in his head. Thoughts he had to run out before he made a fool of himself. Pushing up from the cot Jimmy paced along the far side of the cell, avoiding looking at Lou for more than a second or two… the boy sure had some strange notions when it came to women. Hell, the boy had some strange notions when it came to 'everything'… problem was, Jimmy was beginning to understand them… and maybe even call them his own.

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